As a child growing up in rural Kerala, my chief entertainment was reading: mostly science, history of science and, also, biographies of scientists. To me, science seemed pure and uncluttered by politicking. I thought of scientists as completely rational beings, driven only by a desire to uncover the mysteries of the universe. In my mind, they were impartial observers, experimenters and thinkers, untouched by personal prejudices But, as I grew up, I came to realise that this was far from the truth. No doubt, the history of science has many examples of cooperation between scientists, often from multiple disciplines, working together to uncover the mysteries of nature. But, it is also peppered with examples of prejudice, power play, factionalism, politics and one-upmanship. One such example is the exciting story of the uncovering of the structure of DNA shared in this issue’s ‘Discovering the Helical Staircase’. Every time I dwell on this path-breaking discovery, I am left with deep sadness at how one of the scientists who contributed significantly to this achievement – Rosalind Franklin – received hardly any credit for it. This is a reflection of how women scientists were systematically relegated to the background in those days. The men who dominated science wanted to keep it that way – dominated by men. How much more would science have progressed if women had been given their rightful say and encouragement?
This issue of iWonder... is centered on evolution, a concept that today is almost synonymous with Charles Darwin. However, in a strange but fitting way, the word evolution, derived from the Latin ‘evolvere’, was originally used to refer to the ‘unrolling of a book’. And it was, in fact, Charles Lyell who first used this term with its modern meaning – twenty-seven years before Darwin used it once in the final paragraph of his ‘On the Origin of Species’. Thus, it is Lyell’s notion that ‘the present is the key to the past’, a key first principle in almost every field of science, which is the underlying thread linking the articles in this issue – from the evolution of stars and the Earth to that of living organisms, humans, or even the phenomenon of ocean acidification.
The beauty of science is that there is no absolute truth. As newer technologies develop and newer discoveries are made, newer mysteries emerge, requiring more collaborative work and even more advanced technologies to solve them. Thus, science is a never-ending quest to understand the nature of the universe and how best humanity can tap its unlimited resources. We hope that this issue of ‘ i wonder...’ ignites the spark to embark on that quest in each of our readers.
In our inaugural issue, we explore an important aspect of science that is seldom evident in school textbooks - its inter-disciplinarity. To understand any concept in its entirety, we must examine it from the perspective of many streams- physics, chemistry, biology and others and often through combining these disciplines. Hence, the theme for this issue is interdisciplinary science.
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